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SUMO: 2017 Kyushu Basho (Day 7)

It’s Day 7 of the Kyushu Basho and we’re down to just a single combatant atop the leaderboard with an undefeated record—yokozuna Hakuho! Unfortunately, I’m quite pressed for time today, so I can’t give a thorough assessment of yesterday’s action or what dramatic situations it creates. But I can point out the best of today’s matches and present the video for your enjoyment.

M13 Takekaze (2–4) vs. M13 Aminishiki (5–1)—When the two oldest rikishi in the top division go head-to-head, you get a total of 77 years of sumo experience on the dohyo at once. That’s bound to produce some interesting results. (0:36)
M12 Okinoumi (5–1) vs. M10 Ikioi (3–3)—Two popular rikishi, even though their fortunes haven’t been so great most of this year. Okinoumi is still on the leaderboard, and Ikioi is looking more confident than he has in several tournaments.  (2:40)
Ozeki Goiedo (5–1) vs. M3 Shohozan (3–3)—Goeido had his first slip-up yesterday. The big question is whether he can get back on course today and stay in the hunt for the yusho [tournament championship], or if he’s going to have another one of his patented uncalled for losing streaks. His opponent today is Shohozan—another tough, slap-and-thrust, streetfighting rikishi. When these two square off, it’s always a wild, brutal affair. (10:25)
Komusubi Onosho (1–5) vs. yokozuna Hakuho (6–0)—This is the first meeting between Hakuho and the young phenom Onosho. I expect Onosho to slow himself down and focus, because surely he can’t be overconfident in his chances against the greatest yokozuna of the era (probably of all time). Of course, I also expect that there’s nothing that the youngster can show that Hakuho doesn’t have an answer for. (11:35)
Yokozuna Kisenosato (4–2) vs. M3 Hokutofuji (5–1)—Kisenosato certainly seems to be on his way to a kachi-koshi [majority of wins], but that’s not really good enough as a yokozuna. If you ask me, it seems like his left thigh is still injured and he’s fighting every match defensively. This is fine until he faces opponents who are strong enough to push around his 240kg body. Hokutofuji certainly has the strength. So this match will probably depend on whether or not Kisenosato can outmaneuver Hokutofuji at the ring’s edge.  (12:50)


SUMO: 2017 Kyushu Basho (Day 6)

It’s Day 6 and the leaderboard looks like this: Three rikishi are undefeated (yokozuna Hakuho, ozeki Goeido, and M13 Aminishiki) with seven rikishi one win off the pace (ozeki Takayasu, sekiwake Mitakeumi, M3 Hokutofuji, M4 Ichinojo, M5 Arawashi, M12 Okinoumi, and M15 Nishikigi). The first number is surprisingly small leading into middle weekend, and the second number is about right . . . perhaps a little large. 

Mostly, the numbers don’t matter as long as Hakuho continues to fight like his recent injuries never happened. In yesterday’s match he clearly was toying with his opponent—M2 Tochiozan. Of course, over the past two years, he’s regularly toyed with Tochiozan, employing several nekodamashi [cat tricks] maneuvers against him, regularly giving him a dame-oshi [extra shove] after the match is won, and looking surprisingly pleased with himself after it’s all said and done. (At one point I thought that Hakuho actually LIKED Tochiozan and was using these moments to pressure him into performing better and “living up to his potential,” but I’ve changed my mind . . . now I think that Hakuho basically dislikes Tochiozan for some reason, and he’s just trying to make him look bad.)

It’s not that Hakuho is completely unassailable. Chances are good that he’ll lose a match or two in the next ten days. But the chances are very SLIM that any of his opponents will ALSO perform that well. Hakuho’s great power isn’t that he’s undefeatable, it’s that he can be counted on to regain focus after a loss and keep his overall record on a path that approaches perfection. And he has one advantage that NO ONE else in the basho can match—he never has to fight against Hakuho. Everyone else must, and therefore must also do BETTER than he does in their OTHER matches in order to absorb that extra loss.

That having been said, Goeido has certainly shown us that he, too, can approach perfection (as his one tournament win was a zensho-yusho [perfect record championship]). But he’s also shown us that he is more often likely to let one loss shake his confidence and suddenly slip into a multi-day losing streak (as he did in September, after a 10–1 start to the tournament). If he can master his weaker tendencies, Goeido can present a serious challenge to Hakuho.

The other remaining undefeated rikishi, Aminishiki, is the kind of dark horse it’s difficult to handicap. He’s way down the banzuke [ranking sheet] at M13, but he’s had a long and storied career, having been ranked as high as sekiwake on six different occasions. He knows how to win, and for at least the first ten days he’ll only be facing the lowest ranked of opponents, giving him an easier path to challenging final weekend. Of course, he’s ranked that low because it’s been a long time since he performed at a sekiwake level, and he relies more on trickery than domination these days. And, oddly, because of his low rank he ALSO gains the advantage of not having to fight Hakuho (unless they end up tied and go into a final day playoff).

And through all this, the pressure remains high on the half-dozen-or-so rikishi who are one win off the pace. They, too, must approach perfection over the next five days in order to remain within striking distance when the leaders stumble. If the leaders all stumble. 

M13 Aminishiki (5–0) vs. M11 Asanoyama (1–4)—Aminishiki is just back from a year in Juryo and he’s showing that he hasn’t lost any of his cleverness. He’s winning his bouts not by overpowering his opponents, but by taking their initial charges and then turning their preferred attacks against them. They’ve all been more or less wins by “reversal.” I think we’re due for him to pull a big ol’ henka [jump to the side at the tachi-ai] in one of these matches soon. He’s always been renowned for using those cleverly and effectively. (2:00)
M9 Endo (3–2) vs. M12 Okinoumi (4–1)—Two popular rikishi who have had shaky performances for most of 2017, but both seem to have turned things around here in the last tournament of the year. If they’re both as on their game as they’ve seemed thus far, this should be a very exciting match. (3:15)
Sekiwake Mitakeumi (4–1) vs. komusubi Onosho (1–4)—Two rikishi who seem destined to be stars in the coming years. I think this is going to develop into one of the big rivalries of the coming decade. Mitakeumi is hampered at the moment with a badly stubbed toe (I’m guessing that it’s actually broken), while Onosho has been doing over-anxious sumo and leaving himself vulnerable to thust downs. We’ll see who performs better today. (10:40)
Ozeki Goeido (5–0) vs. M2 Chiyotairyu (1–4)—I was having an online discussion last night with a friend who roots hard for Goeido. Where I find him difficult to like because he so often fails to live up to his potential, my friend likes Goeido because when he pulls it all together he is among the best in the sport. Right now, Goeido seems to have everything under control . . . so my friend is enjoying his strong performance while I keep holding my breath waiting for him to slip up. (11:45)
Yokozuna Kisenosato (3–2) vs. M2 Tochiozan (0–5)—Kisenosato may have turned a corner in his confidence yesterday. He stayed calm, moved with certainty and conviction, and pulled a win out of a match where he was clearly in trouble. I think he’s probably still injured and can’t be as aggressive as he usually likes . . . but as long as he continues to find ways to win, it can only help his overall confidence as a yokozuna. (14:10)
M3 Shohozan (2–3) vs. yokozuna Hakuho (5–0)—Shohozan is a scrappy, street-fighter of a rikishi, and Hakuho seems not to like facing opponents like that. I don’t mean that he has trouble with them, but rather he goes out of his way to wrap those opponents up as quickly as possible to avoid the unpredictable thumping one gets in such matches. The longer Shohozan can stay out of of Hakuho’s grip, the better his chances of scoring an upset victory. (15:10)

SUMO: 2017 Kyushu Basho (Day 5)

It’s Day 5 of the Kyushu Basho and the first bit of news today is that we have another rikishi going kyujo [absent due to injury]. As of today, sekiwake Terunofuji has withdrawn from the Kyushu Basho. This was the tournament after he was demoted from the rank of ozeki, so if he could have reached ten wins he would have been reinstated to sumo’s second-highest rank. But his injuries are bad enough that he really never should have entered the tournament, as his 0–4 record attests. His knees are so bad that he can’t put up a solid defense, even against opponents he outweighs by dozens of pounds. By pulling out now, Terunofuji can go back to healing, and hopefully will not return until his body truly is ready to compete, even if that means skipping several of the 2018 tournaments and dropping precipitously down the banzuke. In 2015, when he was promoted to ozeki, he looked like a shoe-in for eventual promotion to yokozuna, and he’s young enough that he still could regain that ground . . . even if he has to start from “the beginning” again.

Looking at the winning side of the banzuke, we’re already down to only a quintet of undefeated rikishi. Those with perfect 4–0 records are yokozuna Hakuho, ozeki Goeido, ozeki Takayasu, M4 Ichinojo, and M13 Aminishiki. What’s more, only four rikishi are one win behind the pace with 3–1 records—Sekiwake Mitakeumi, M3 Hokutofuji, M5 Arawashi, M12 Okinoumi. The rest of the field is either even or already lagging with losing records. It’s pretty much the opposite of what happened in September, when a huge collection of rikishi stayed in close competition for the lead through the middle weekend and into Week 2.

Hakuho is clearly the strongest of the bunch, unsurprisingly. Certainly, there are a good number of rikishi in the mix who COULD beat him on a given day, but the chances of several of them doing so, particularly when he’s looking so strong, are pretty thin unless the spectre of injury rises again. That means that one or two rikishi will need to stay near perfect for the next ten days just to keep any kind of pressure on Hakuho at all.

Goeido managed to do that in September, even taking Hakuho into a final day playoff to decide the yusho [tournament championship]. And the truth is that so far Goeido has seemed pretty strong. But over the years the ozeki has EARNED a reputation for lacking focus over the course of a tournament, and for losing 3–4 matches that he really ought to win. If he can remain undefeated through the coming weekend, we’ll have to take him seriously, but in my heart I really EXPECT him to lose once or twice before then.

Takayasu still has the “new ozeki” scent around him. He is kadoban [threatened with ozeki demotion] this tournament, so his first and main challenge is to make sure he gets 8 wins and is kachi-koshi [majority of wins]. Right now that’s looking highly likely, but it must be the utmost goal on his mind . . . and only AFTER that will Takayuasu turn his attention to the yusho hunt. He’s undefeated so far, but he was on the verge of losing two of his matches and only turned things around because of the slipperiness of the dohyo. In his whole career he’s never gotten more than twelve wins in a tournament, and the way things are going it seems like it will take at least thirteen or fourteen to keep pace with Hakuho.

A surprising possibility is Aminishiki, who is only returned to the Makuuchi Division this basho after a year down in Juryo. A mark against him is that he’s the oldest rikishi currently in competition, but the fact of the matter is that he wins through wiles and skill rather than raw power, and at M13 he’s facing opponents who are more likely to succumb to his trickery. He might have the best chance of anyone to keep pace with Hakuho deep into Week 2.

The other currently undefeated rikishi is Ichinojo, but my disdain for him almost caused me to leave him off the list entirely. At M4 he is unlikely to remain undefeated much longer and, indeed, I still think there’s a better than even chance that he’ll wrap up the tournament with a make-koshi [majority of losses].

Really, though, we’re just now getting to the one-third mark on the basho schedule. There’s a whole lot of sumo yet to be done by EVERYONE, and just about anything could happen along the way.

M14 Daiamami (1–3) vs. M13 Aminishiki (4–0)—Aminishiki is the first of our leaders up on the dohyo. As I’ve said, he’s a wily veteran who seems to have an answer to everything EXCEPT when an opponent gets a good grip and just plain out-muscles him. Daiamami is a rookie in the Makuuchi Division, and just won his first match ever at this level the other day. He’s got strength and energy, but not a lot of experience. (1:20)
M7 Shodai (2–2) vs. M5 Arawashi (3–1)—Neither of these two is really in the mix for the yusho hunt . . . but both could get there if they get on hot streaks. Unfortunately, one of their streaks is going to go cold with a loss today. (4:55)
M6 Chiyoshoma (2–2) vs. M4 Ichinojo (4–0)—Ichinojo is undefeated and still facing opponents who are ranked in the the mid-Maegashira level. There’s no reason he shouldn’t get a fifth win today, except that his lackidaisical attitude toward his matches make him ALWAYS vulnerable to an upset. (7:00)
M4 Chiyonokuni (1–3) vs. M3 Hokutofuji (3–1)—So far this tournament Chiyonokuni has looked strong, but hasn’t been able to put his use that strength to finish off opponents that he’s out-fought. Hokutofuji, on the other hand, has bulled his way to a one-loss record. Overall, I like Chiyonokuni better, but in sports (especially one like sumo) the will to win often means more than just about any skill. (7:40)
M1 Tamawashi (2–2) vs. ozeki Takayasu (4–0)—Takayasu is looking pretty strong in his bouts so far, but he hasn’t generally looked like he has a plan. It seems like he’s relying on his body and the weight of his rank . . . and so far that’s worked for him. Tamawashi, on the other hand, is trying to win back a spot in the sanyaku ranks, making him a man with a mission. (10:45)
Ozeki Goeido (4–0) vs. komusubi Onosho (1–3)—Onosho is having the type of tournament that one expects from a first-time sanyaku rikishi. He’s showing an odd mixture of extreme confidence and nervous anxiety. He needs to calm down and stop rushing through his matches—that’s what I think is causing him to slip on the dohyo. On the other side, Goeido is still undefeated, but has been as lucky as he’s been skillful. He also needs to calm down and do steady, confident sumo. I’m not sure who’ll win this one. I definitely think that Onosho has what it takes to beat Goeido, I’m just not sure he knows WHICH of his moves are the right ones. (11:50)
M2 Tochiozan (0–4) vs. yokozuna Hakuho (4–0)—Over the last few years, Hakuho has made a habit of performing odd maneuvers when he faces Tochiozan. Here’s a tiny spoiler: he does it again in this match. Watch the WHOLE match . . . and watch with interest. (12:40)
Yokozuna Kisenosato (2–2) vs. M3 Shohozan (2–2)—Kisenosato has been a little shaky so far this basho, but there doesn’t seem to be anything particularly wrong with him physically. Some of the commentators are saying that he’s just got some nerves after being away from the dohyo for so long, and that could be it. But I also see him performing very defensive sumo, which is not his usual style. However, if he gets confidence back in his defensive maneuvering, maybe he’ll start performing more offensively. (13:55)

SUMO: 2017 Kyushu Basho (Day 4)

As Day 4 of the Kyushu Basho dawns, we have a few more details about the Harumafuji situation, though still there is more unknown than known.

The incident took place on October 26th at a social gathering of Mongolian rikishi after a jungyo [exhibition tour] stop in Tottori. There was a disagreement between Harumafuji and Takanoiwa—an unnamed source says that Takanoiwa told the yokozuna, “Your generation is done. It’s our turn now.”—and Harumafuji responded by hitting him over the head with a beer bottle, then punching him several dozen times. Takanoiwa was hospitalized from Nov. 5–9 and diagnosed with a concussion, a skull base fracture, and other minor injuries. The unnamed source says that Harumafuji then yelled at yokozuna Kakuryu and scuffled with a few other rikishi before the incident wound down.

Takanoiwa’s oyakata [stable manager], former yokozuna Takanohana, reported the incident to the Tottori police, and filed a complaint with the Nihon Sumo Kyokai [Japan Sumo Association].

Yesterday, Harumafuji and his coach Isegahama Oyakata went to the Kyokai expecting to meet with Takanohana Oyakata and offer an apology. However, Takanohana dropped off some paperwork (including police reports) and left the building before the other two arrived. Most sumo pundits interpret this as meaning that he has no interest in accepting the apology. 

For its part, the Kyokai has announced that they have put together a special commission to investigate the matter, and that neither the results of the commission nor any punishment for Harumafuji would be discussed until after the end of the Kyushu Basho.

Meanwhile, there’s still a full slate of sumo action. Yokozuna Hakuho, ozeki Goeido, and ozeki Takayasu continue to press forward undefeated, something only three non-sanyaku rikishi have managed to do, despite there only having been three matches thus far. We should have our first reasonable leaderboard come together in the next few days. 

Yokozuna Kisenosato beat komusubi Onosho . . . or, more accurately, Onosho slipped on the clay (for the second day in a row—if he’d just calm down a little and make sure he had his feet under him, he might still be undefeated). In any case, it was Kisenosato’s 901st win in the Makuuchi Division, tying him with former yokozuna Takanohana (who we were just talking about above) at number eight on the all-time list.

A little lower down the banzuke [ranking sheet], sekiwake Yoshikaze managed to notch his 500th career Makuuchi Division level win against ailing giant sekiwake Terunofuji. There seems to be almost no hope that Terunofuji will get the ten wins he needs to regain his ozeki rank. In fact, it’s seeming pretty unlikely that he’ll even manage to get kachi-koshi [majority of wins] and that he’ll tumble out of the sanyaku ranks entirely.

The third sekiwake, Mitakeumi, whose left toe makes his ever step obviously painful, managed to beat komusubi Kotoshogiku and better his overall record to 2–1. I’d like to see Mitakeumi get his kachi-koshi and then sit out the remainder of the tournament . . . I’m tired of seeing strong, young rikishi hobbled for months and years because they were too bullheaded to let their bodies heal completely.

Now let’s look at today’s top matches.

M14 Kotoyuki (1–2) vs. J2 Ryuden (1–2)—Kotoyuki is back up from Juryo, but based on his performance over the first few days, he won’t be here long. He STILL doesn’t seem to have learned any new tricks, which means that every time he meets an opponent who is strong enough to deflect his pushing/thrusting attacks, he has no secondary strategy to fall back on. Today he faces Ryuden, who is up from Juryo for the day, so Kotoyuki better take advantage of the lower-ranked opponent while he can. (0:10)
M10 Kaisei (2–1) vs. M12 Okinoumi (2–1)—Two popular rikishi who have had lackluster performances throughout 2017, but are trying to put in a good show in the final tournament of the year. In particularly, Okinoumi has shown more energy and enthusiasm in the past two days than he has in the past two basho combined. (2:50)
Komusubi Onosho (1–2) vs. sekiwake Yoshikaze (1–2)—Onosho has had a run of bad luck the past couple of days, losing two matches in a row because he slipped on the clay. Of course, it may just be that he’s a little overanxious and is leaning too far ahead during his charges, which would put him off balance and lead to slipping. Today he faced Yoshikaze, who so far has also had the misfortune of just being a little unlucky. In both of his losses, Yoshikaze was clearly dominating the match when his opponents made unexpected, quite possibly unplanned maneuvers that turned the tables and gave them the wins. Yoshikaze doesn’t have to make any significant changes to how he’s doing his sumo . . . he just needs to catch a few breaks. (10:20)
Yokozuna Kisenosato (2–1) vs. M1 Takakeisho (1–2)—Kisenosato may be 2–1, but he could very easily be 0–3. He hasn’t looked sharp in any of his bouts. With two other yokozuna out of the running, we’re kind of counting on him to provide some drama and put pressure on Hakuho. This is only the second time he’s ever faced Takakeisho, but a healthy Kisenosato should be able to handle him with little trouble. (14:30)

SUMO: 2017 Kyushu Basho (Day 3)

It’s Day 3 of the Kyushu Basho, and things are hardly going according to plan. Although yokozuna Hakuho has come back strong from his absence in the previous tournament, yokozuna Kisenosato (who also was kyujo [absent due to injury] in September) looks much less stable and is only 1–1 in his first two matches. What’s more, yokozuna Kakuryu is kyujo again (meaning that he’ll only have fully competed in ONE tournament in 2017) and yokozuna Harumafuji (who won September’s Aki Basho) lost both of his first two matches, each to a Maegashira-ranked rikishi.

If that’s not bad enough, Harumafuji is kyujo as of today, and may be forced to retire due to an incident on the autumn jungyo [exhibition tour]. Apparently, on October 28th, the yokozuna got into a fight with M8 Takanoiwa, hitting him over the head with a beer bottle and causing serious injury. Takanoiwa is kyujo this tournament . . . now we know why. 

Although the incident was a complete secret until today, Harumafuji made a public statement apologizing for his behavior, the injury, and for “causing trouble.” Apparently, he and his oyakata [stable master] went to Takanohana Beya to officially apologize, but before they could, Takanohana Oyakata left the heya . . . a none-too-subtle hint that he was in no mood to accept the apology, and that he wants to press the Kyokai [Sumo Association] to enforce some stricter penalty . . . most likely forcing Harumafuji to retire.

The politics behind this are both obvious and subtle. Takanohana was a great yokozuna in his day, winning twenty-two yusho [tournament championships] between 1992–2001, making him one of only nineteen rikishi ever to earn the unofficial rank of “dai-yokozuna,” generally considered someone who has won ten or more yusho. Harumafuji’s win in September was his ninth, and by forcing him to retire, Takanohana would denying him the opportunity to ever join the ranks of dai-yokozuna (something he probably would achieve over the course of 2018, and almost certainly would have already achieved if he hadn’t been fighting during the era of Hakuho).

For certain, Harumafuji is now out of the Kyushu Basho. Whether or not he’ll ever compete again is a question that will be deliberated behind the closed doors of Kyokai meetings, but most likely not until after the end of the tournament.

And that’s just the off-the-dohyo drama. There’s plenty of action in the ring, too.

Let’s begin with sekiwake Terunofuji, who must win ten matches this tournament if he wants to be reinstated to the rank of ozeki (which he lost after being kyujo in September while also being kadoban [threatened with ozeki demotion]). He is clearly still quite injured, having lost his first two matches and looking fairly hapless in the process. His chances are already slim, but every loss he takes in Week 1, when he faces lower-ranked opponents, makes them even slimmer. At this point, the best thing Terunofuji can do is to take a long break—I’d like to see him take off the entire year of 2018—to let his knees FULLY heal. He must accept that he’ll drop down the banzuke [ranking sheet] all the way through Makuuchi, and probably through Juryo, down into the lower divisions, and hope that his knees CAN heal well enough for him to make a comeback starting in 2019.

Speaking of injuries, M11 Aoiyama, who was just coming back from a bad twist of his left knee, took a bad fall in his Day 2 loss to M12 Okinoumi and appears to have seriously injured his right leg (though it was unclear whether it was his knee or his ankle that caused the trouble). In any case, he had to be wheeled out of the stadium following the loss, and is now kyujo again.

On a more positive note, ozeki Takayasu is kadoban this tournament (no, that’s not the good part), but so far he’s looked healthy and strong. He’s won his first two matches, and so only needs six more in order to secure his kachi-koshi [majority of wins] and his ozeki rank. I’m sure, though, that he’s got his sights set higher than that. Takayasu has made no secret about the fact that he wants to be a yokozuna one day, like his stablemate Kisenosato, and in order to achieve that he’s got to start winning tournaments. And so far he’s got as good a chance as anyone at contending for the yusho here in Kyushu.

A bit of news I haven’t yet reported is that sekiwake Yoshikaze began the Kyushu Basho with 499 career wins, needing just one more to reach an auspicious plateau. However, since he lost both of his opening matches, we still can get to celebrate with him (presuming that he’ll notch up a victory before too long).

Now let’s have a look at some of the top matches from today’s action.

Sekiwake Mitakeumi (1–1) vs. komusubi Kotoshogiku (0–2)—This should be a terrific match, even though neither of the rikishi is looking particularly sharp so far this basho. Mitakeumi injured the big toe on his left foot during warm-ups on Day 1, and it’s clearly throwing off his game. Still, he’s up on the dohyo giving it his all. On the other hand, Kotoshogiku began the tournament against two of the strongest rikisihi on the banzuke—Hakuho and Goeido—so his record isn’t shocking, but on the other hand he didn’t particularly challenge either one. We’ll see if one of these two can really bring their sumo into focus—perhaps BOTH of them can! (8:15)
Sekiwake Terunofuji (0–2) vs. sekiwake Yoshikaze (0–2)—Terunofuji is clearly hurt, and the likelihood of his getting the ten wins he needs to regain his ozeki rank seems to be getting fading away. He needs to turn that around today while there’s still a chance. Meanwhile Yoshikaze is only needs to win one more to get to five hundred career Makuuchi Division wins. He lost two close bouts the past couple of days, and he also needs to turn his fortunes around if he wants to stay a the rank of sekiwake (because at this rank Week 2 usually brings the most challenging opponents). (9:00)
Komusubi Onosho (1–1) vs. ozeki Takayasu (2–0)—Onosho beat Harumafuji on Day 1 and was in a strong position against Kisenosato yesterday when his foot slipped on the clay. Clearly he’ll want to prove his strength by coming back strong against an ozeki opponent today, and show the world that he’s a serious contender. Meanwhile, Takayasu has won his first two bouts, but must know that he wasn’t particularly sharp in them. He can do a lot to solidify his reputation as a strong ozeki by handing this young upstart a decisive defeat. (9:25)
Ozeki Goeido (2–0) vs. M2 Tochiozan (0–2)—Goeido is looking strong again this tournament. The biggest problem may be that he’s a little too anxious and aggressive. He very nearly lost on Day 1 by over-extending his winning thrust. If he can take the strength he’s showing and temper it with a bit of measured patience, he could yet become the strong ozeki that he’s failed to be the past few years. (10:40)
M1 Takakeisho (1–1) vs. yokozuna Hakuho (2–0)—Hakuho is . . . well . . . he’s Hakuho. Coming back from missing a whole tournament due to injury and he just looks as strong, calm, and in control as has been for years. It’s still the early days of this basho, but unless something goes very wrong, Hakuho has already served notice that he’s the man to beat. (11:35)
Yokozuna Kisenosato (1–1) vs. M2 Chiyotairyu (1–1)—Kisenosato was a little unlucky on Day 1, losing a match that he was in control of . . . and a little lucky on Day 2, when Onosho slipped on the clay before the match could really get going. We haven’t yet really seen what kind of condition Kisenosato is in for this tournament. Hopefully, he can show us that in his match today against Chiyotairyu (12:55)

SUMO: 2017 Kyushu Basho (Day 2)

It’s Day 2 of the Kyushu basho and the drama has already begun. Two of the three competing yokozuna lost their opening matches, as did two of the three sekiwake.

Harumafuji lost for the second straight time in a row to 21-year-old komusubi Onosho, who is only participating in his fourth tournament at the Makuuchi Division level. Worse for Harumafuji, he walked off the dohyo flexing his left arm the way he does when it’s bothering him. I fear that he may not make it all the way to the end of the tournament, let alone get a second yusho [tournament championship] in a row.

Likewise, Kisenosato looked out of sorts in his loss to M1 Tamawashi. It may be that the yokozuna isn’t as completely healed as he’d hoped. Despite Kisenosato being in control for the first few moments of the match, Tamawashi was able to push him off balance and eventually force him out of the ring. 

As I said in my comments yesterday, this could be a very interesting and unpredictable tournament . . . and not just at the top of the banzuke [ranking sheet]. There are a lot of interesting things going on among the rank-and-file Maegashira rikishi.

Maybe the most noticeable thing about the top of the Maegashira ranks (M1–M5) is the lack of big-time recognizable names. After September’s Aki Basho, the familiar faces either rolled up to sanyaku (like Onosho) or dropped precipitously. M1 Tamawashi and M2 Tochiozan were both komusubi in September, but both showed a decided lack of focus. With the sanyaku ranks stacked with highly determined rikishi, I don’t see any reason why this basho should go any better for either of them. M3 Shohozan and M4 Ichinojo put in pretty good performances in September, but this is the area of the banzuke where their skills are usually shown to be lacking. They are very strong mid-level Maegashira, but just don’t have what it takes to get the job done when they have half their schedules filled with sanyaku opponents. 

The mid-level Maegashira (M6–M10) are in the opposite situation—a bunch of recognizable names at rankings where they usually can thrive. At M6 Tochinoshin can make another run at the top of the banzuke IF his knee stays strong (a big if at this point in his career). Meanwhile M7 Daishomaru, M9 Endo, M10 Kaisei, and M10 Ikioi all seem poised to have good tournament, though chances are that they can’t all do so simultaneously. A couple of these guys are going to have to rise above the others or they’re all going to end up with mediocre final records. A note for those tracking the banzuke, M8 Takanoiwa has withdrawn from the tournament due to injury (though I have no details as to why)

As for the lower Maegashira (M11–M16), there are a lot of familiar names, including a few who are returning from time in Juryo. Chief among these are M13 Aminishiki (who at 39 is the oldest rikishi ever to be promoted up out of Juryo) and M14 Kotoyuki (who seems to have gotten back the fire that launched him up the banzuke in 2016). Bulgarian rikishi Aoiyama is at M11, hoping to repeat his dominant July performance (he missed most of September’s tournament due to injury). Meanwhile, rikishi like M12 Okinoumi and M15 Nishikigi are hoping to shake the cobwebs of their previous performance out of their heads and get back to winning ways before the fall out of the top division entirely. Speaking of falling into Juryo, that is certainly what will happen to fan-favorite Ura, as he has already withdrawn from the tournament due to lingering injury . . . and at M16 there is nowhere else for him to go but down a division.

Now that we’re fully caught up on the banzuke, let’s look at the best match-ups from today’s bouts.

M11 Aoiyama (1–0) vs. M12 Okinoumi (0–1)—Two big rikishi who have struggled some of late. Aoiyama was super-sharp in July (staying in the yusho race until the final days of the tournament), but had injury problems in September. Okinoumi has just seemed lackluster for most of this year, like he’s going through the motions but doesn’t really have the drive to go out and MAKE wins for himself. (Oddly, this was the knock I put on Kisenosato for several years—it was only in 2016 that he seemed to find the drive to push himself, and when he did he wound up getting his promotion to yokozuna.) (3:09)
M9 Endo (1–0) vs. M10 Kaisei (1–0)—Two very popular rikishi, both of whom are now wearing very colorful mawashi [belt/loin cloth]. They’ve both spent some time in Juryo lately this year, and so clearly are motivated to prove that they deserve their spots in the upper division. In particular, Kaisei has the physical attributes that could make him a solid mainstay in the sanyaku ranks, if only he can manage to keep himself focused for the whole of a tournament. (5:15)
Sekiwake Terunofuji (0–1) vs. M3 Shohozan (1–0)—Terunofuji looked pretty unstable yesterday. He’s needs at least ten wins in order to regain his ozeki rank, but in order to achieve that he MUST win most of his Week 1 matches. Starting off with a loss is a bad sign. Shohozan has beaten Terunofuji the only two times they’ve fought previously, so he’ll be confident.  (10:03)
Yokozuna Harumafuji (0–1) vs. M1 Takakeisho (0–1)—Harumafuji’s loss yesterday could be chalked up to any number of things, most benign being a mere bit of slippage (the dohyo seems to be very sandy and a lot of rikishi had trouble with their footing on Day 1). More worrisome might be that up-and-comer Onosho really has his number, and this is a rivalry that Harumafuji is destined to be on the wrong end of. Most problematic would be if Harumafuji’s condition just isn’t as good as he’d like us to believe. He was giving some signs of that last possiblity in his posture and gestures after yesterday’s loss. Hopefully, though, he’ll bounce back today against Takakeisho. (12:47)
M1 Tamawashi (1–0) vs. yokozuna Hakuho (1–0)—Hakuho looked strong in his Day 1 win, easily beating Kotoshogiku for the fifty-third time out of fifty-eight matches (which in itself may be some kind of record). Alone among the upper-ranked rikishi, Hakuho seems healthy, in rhythm, and ready for this tournament. (Ozeki Goeido seems healthy, but he very nearly gave away his Day 1 match by over-extending himself.) (15:55)

SUMO: 2017 Kyushu Basho (Day 1)

Greetings, sumo fans! It’s time for the final honbasho [grand tournament] of the year! As always, the November tournament is held in city of Fukuoka on the southernmost of Japan’s main islands, Kyushu—a long way from Tokyo, but certainly with more hospitable weather as the autumn turns into winter. 

September’s Aki Basho was a wild affair that ultimately ended up with a predictable result. Things in Kyushu are set to kick off in a more standard way, with three of the four yokozuna competing and looking healthy . . . but we’ll have to wait and see how things play out. There’s certainly lots of room for surprises and even high drama.

Yokozuna Harumafuji took the yusho [tournament championship] in September, and he’s looking just as healthy here at the start of the follow-up tournament. What that ultimately means is different because yokozuna Hakuho is back, having sat out in September, and in his practice sessions he has looked even healthier and more dominant than he was in the tournaments of May and June (both of which he won). He’s even talking about aiming for a zensho-yusho [undefeated tournament championship], which means he must be feeling strong.Also joining the action after being kyujo [absent due to injury] in September is yokozuna Kisenosato. There remains some question about whether he’s 100% healthy, but clearly he’s well enough to step up onto the dohyo and face all comers. 

The only yokozuna who is NOT competing is Kakuryu. For the past two years I’ve been predicting that Kakuryu is on the verge of retirement, and should probably be encouraged in that directions. It seems like the rest of the sumo world now feels the same way, and rumors about that if he doesn’t perform well (that is a bare minimum of 10 wins, preferably 11+) in his next outing, the Kyokai [Sumo Association] may pressure him to schedule a danpatsu-shiki [a ceremony where his top-knot is cut off and he officially retires]. Of course, if he fails to even ENTER for a few more tournaments, they may make that same “recommendation.”

We’ll have two ozeki again this basho, and again one of them begins kadoban [threatened with ozeki demotion]. In this case, it’s not Goeido, who finished in second place in September—though the WAY he did it was thoroughly unimpressive as he lost four of his final five matches, including the yusho playoff. Despite dominating through the middle section of the tournament, in the end he wound up with only an 11–4 record, a pretty average performance for an ozeki, and downright disappointing considering three yokozuna and two ozeki were kyujo. Goeido has looked good in practice recently, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that he’s going to underperform again during the tournament, and the he’ll be kadoban for the NINTH time in his career in January. 

Meanwhile, kadoban THIS time is Takayasu, who only participated two days in September before being sidelined with a twisted ankle. Now he MUST get a minimum of 8 wins in order to hold onto the ozeki ranking he’s only held for a few tournaments, after putting in more than year of solid performances to get the promotion. He’s looked pretty good in warm-up matches, so as long as he’s built up enough strength to handle the fifteen-day endurance test that each basho provides, getting kachi-koshi shouldn’t be too much to expect. In fact, if he’s healthy enough to make a go of it, I predict he’ll go all the way with a solid ozeki performance that includes double-digit wins.

We only have two ozeki because Terunofuji’s chronic knee problems finally caught up with him last basho, causing him to pull out on Day 6. Of course, he was already kachikoshi following a weak performance in July’s Nagoya Basho, so he has been demoted to sekiwake. This tournament is his one chance to automatically reclaim his prior ranking IF he can get double-digit wins (something he hasn’t done a lot of since the knee injuries began). It’s certainly not beyond possibility, as when he’s healthy Terunofuji is still a threat to challenge for the yusho. But when he’s not, he can be a complete pushover. His pre-basho matches have been a mixed bag, with him dominating some days and sitting out entirely on others. This doesn’t bode well. But one thing we know for sure, he will push himself as far and as hard as he can. Let’s hope he’s well enough to get the 10 wins, because tournaments are always more exciting when he is in the mix.

The other sekiwake this tournament are Mitakeumi and giant-killer Yoshikaze, both of whom are holding the rank for the second tournament in row. Yoshikaze is in something of an “autumn bloom” late in his career (he’s 35 years old) and has publicly talked about wanting to get promoted to ozeki before he retires. However, with 8–7 and 9–6 records in his last two outings, he still needs to put in three successive double-digit-win tournaments in order to get there, and that seems pretty unlikely. Mitakeumi, who had identical records in the previous two basho, is only 24 years old—there’s still plenty of time for him to take his game up a notch and register the thirty-three wins over three tournaments that are required in order to get promoted to sumo’s second-highest rank.

At komusubi this tournament are former-ozeki Kotoshogiku and young phenom Onosho. In September Kotoshogiku showed that he’s still got MOST of what he had in his ozeki days, taking advantage of all the yokozuna and ozeki absences to put up a 10–5 record. Onosho, on the other hand, is just 21 years old, and this is only his fourth tournament in sumo’s highest division. What’s more, he’s had 10–5 records in ALL of his previous Makuuchi Division basho. If he can somehow manage to go 13–2 this tournament, he will technically have earned a promotion to Ozeki. Of course, this will also be the first tournament where he will have to face a healthy batch of yokozuna and ozeki, so the jury is still out on whether or not he can handle that level of competition.

This is as strong a collection of sanyaku-level rikishi as we’ve seen all year . . . and possibly in two or more years. That should provide the makings of a very competitive tournament. But, as we saw in September, you never know for sure what you’re going to get until the big men square off on the dohyo. Hopefully we have an exciting fortnight ahead of us!

I’ll give my thoughts about the rest of the field in tomorrow’s post. For now, though, let’s look at today’s best matches.

M14 Kotoyuki vs. M13 Aminishiki—Two rikishi who have just been promoted back up the the Makuuchi Division after a few tournaments down in Juryo. Notably, at 39 years old, Aminishiki is the oldest rikishi ever to get promoted up from Juryo. Kotoyuki did very well for about a year in Makuuchi, and then seemed to completely lose steam. We’ll see if either of these rikishi have what it takes to STAY in the upper division again for any length of time. (1:25)

Sekiwake Terunofuji vs. M3 Hokutofuji—As I said above, this basho is Terunofuji’s one chance to win an instant reinstatement to his old ozeki rank . . . but he has to get at least ten wins. To do that, he’ll need to have a VERY strong Week 1, but rumor is that his left knee is still quite weak. (8:05)

M3 Shohozan vs. sekiwake Yoshikaze—Two tough rikishi who both favor the slap-and-thrust style of sumo. It’s always a bit of a street brawl when they face off, and the question is who can get the first opening to try something tricky. (9:15)

Sekiwake Mitakeumi vs. M2 Tochiozan—Word is that Mitakeumi injured his toe in pre-match warm-ups. Will this be enough to throw him off his game? (10:10)

Yokozuna Kisenosato vs. M1 Tamawashi—Kisenosato started 2017 in a strong fashion, winning both the January and March tournaments. But he’s been hampered by injuries the rest of the year (sitting out almost all of the September basho). There remains some question as to how healthy he is, and the proof will be in his performance on the dohyo. (12:20)

Yokozuna Harumafuji vs. komusubi Onosho—Harumafuji lost to Onosho on Day 5 of the September tournament, giving the youngster his first kinboshi [gold star award for a Makuuchi rikishi beating a yokozuna]. Of course, Harumafuji turned his performance around and went on to win the basho. Onosho also did well, earning a promotion to komusubi after just his third tournament in the top division. We’ll see who has the upper hand here on Day 1. (14:40)




Sumo may be over for a couple of months, but that doesn’t mean we’re without bizarre Japanese entertainment. Here’s the latest batch of inexplicable commercials fresh off the Japanese airwaves! This time featuring:

• Gel insole school . . . why don’t you get it?!?
• Katie Perry revealing how much she loves laundry (and other things, too)
• The new hotness of the pizza sandwich . . . no, for realz!
• A Duel Master’s commercial . . . no, for REALZZZ!
• Moist Diane . . . she is perfect beauty!
• SoftBank celebrates TEN YEARS of commercials with the talking dog family! (Wait . . . they aren’t retiring are they?!?)

SUMO: 2017 Aki Basho Senshuraku [Final Day] (Day 15)

Here we are at last, Day 15, senshuraku [the final day] of this incredibly strange Aki Basho. And in the end, despite all the strangeness, the yusho [tournament championship] will be decided on the final match of this final day when the top two remaining rikishi fight head-to-head. Despite the fact that over the past fortnight there have been more than a dozen legitimate contenders for the title, including the lowest ranked rikishi in the division, it still has managed to come down to the top man—yokozuna Harumafuji—fighting the second-best man—ozeki Goeido.

If Goeido wins the last match of the regular schedule, he will also win the tournament and hoist the Emperor’s Cup for the second time in his career. If Harumafuji wins the final match of the day, the two will finish the tournament with equal 11–4 records, and will go immediately into a playoff match to decide the champion. 

So basically, Goeido has to win one of a potential two matches against his rival today, while Harumafuji must win both of them.

All I can say is that I will be bitterly disappointed if either man uses a henka or other trick play. After everything that’s happened this basho, the fans deserve to have the championship decided by straightforward, honorable sumo. 

Of course, there are twenty OTHER matches taking place today, too. Of the other rikishi, eighteen have already secured their kachi-koshi [majority of wins] while sixteen have already reached make-koshi [majority of losses], leaving FIVE rikishi entering the day’s competition with 7–7 records and knowing that how they perform today will decide whether they will be promoted or demoted for November’s Kyushu Basho. 

I’ll make some kind of wrap-up post early next week to give my final thoughts on this oh so strange tournament. But first, let’s look at the top matches from Day 15.

Four-Man Juryo Playoff—There were four rikishi tied with 10–5 records in the Juryo Division, so they had a four-man playoff featuring several familiar names: J2 Aminishiki, J3 Kotoyuki, J6 Homarefuji, and J11 Abi. (0:50)
M14 Okinoumi (7–7) vs. M12 Sadonoumi (2–7–5)—Okinoumi has looked out of sorts all tournament, and if he doesn’t win today it’s pretty likely he’ll be demoted to Juryo in November. He’s lucky in that his opponent missed the first third of the basho because of injury, and probably should have stayed out entirely. (3:25)
M8 Chiyoshoma (7–7) vs. M15 Yutakayama (4–10)—Chiyoshoma is another of the rikishi still on the cusp of make- and kachi-koshi. He gets the advantage here because Yutakayama is in his first basho in the Makuuchi Division and seems to have fallen prey to rookie nerves. It’s down to Juryo for him in November, and all he can hope to do is grab one more win before the demotion. (4:35)
M6 Ichinojo (7–7) vs. M11 Daieisho (8–6)—Ichinojo is the only one of the 7–7 rikishi that I’m rooting against. He’s put in a particularly listless effort this tournament. Usually he can dominate at the M6 rank if he puts in the effort, but instead he’s relied on being a lumbering behemoth all tournament. Despite my feelings, though, I have to say he’s probably got an edge over Daieisho, who is still pretty green. (6:50)
M16 Asanoyama (9–5) vs. M3 Chiyotairyu (8–6)—Both of these rikishi have had very good tournaments, particularly Asanoyama (who is in his first tournament in the Makuuchi Division). If Asanoyama wins this bout, he will get a kanto-sho [Fighting Spirit Prize]. (8:10)
M3 Onosho (9–5) vs. M9 Takanoiwa (8–6)—Another pair of rikishi who have performed very well. Onosho will get a kanto-sho [Fighting Spirit Prize] for his efforts, plus if he wins he will become the first person ever to get double-digit wins in each of his first three Makuuchi Division tournaments. (8:35)
M8 Takarafuji (9–5) vs. M1 Kotoshogiku (9–5)—There isn’t a special prize or particular achievement riding on the outcome of this match. But whichever rikishi takes it will have double-digit wins, which is always a mark of distinction. And clearly they both want it very much. (10:05)
Komusubi Tamawashi (7–7) vs. M5 Takakeisho (8–6)—Tamawashi is the fourth of our “on the cusp” rikishi. He must win today if he wants to remain in sanyaku in November. Takakeisho has had a very good tournament and will get a shukun-sho [Outstanding Performance Prize]. (13:45)
Sekiwake Mitakeumi (7–7) vs. sekiwake Yoshikaze (8–6)—Mitakeumi is the last “on the cusp” rikishi, and he needs a win in order to keep his sekiwake rank in November. Yoshikaze gets Gino-sho [Technique Prize]. It’s strange to see two sekiwake going head-to-head on senshuraku, but it’s just another way this has been the weirdest basho in recent memory. (14:25)
Ozeki Goeido (11–3) vs. yokozuna Harumafuji (10–4)—This is it, the match that will determine the yusho [tournament championship]. If Goeido wins, he’s the champion. If Harumafuji wins, keep watching because they’ll have to come back after a 10-minute break to have a one-bout playoff to determine the winner. (15:35)

SUMO: 2017 Aki Basho (Day 14)

It’s Day 14 of the Aki Basho, and much to nearly everyone’s surprise, the yusho [tournament championship] is still in question. Back on Wednesday it seemed as though ozeki Goeido had managed to stumble his way into a solid lock on the Emperor’s Cup . . . but then he kept stumbling. With two straight losses, he now finds himself with a 10–3 record and only one win ahead of the competition. In this case, the competition is the best and the worst that the Makuuchi Division has to offer—yokozuna Harumafuji and M16 Asanoyama—both with 9–4 records.

Of course the truly weird thing about yesterday’s matches was that the day started with TEN rikishi at 8–4 . . . but EIGHT of those rikishi LOST their Friday matches, leaving just the two contenders nipping at Goeido’s heels.

The way this tournament has been going, I’d be a fool to say that I have a handle on what’s likely to happen over the remaining two days. Goeido has been lackluster all tournament, and he’s looked practically ill the past two days . . . but he could easily snap out of it bring dominant sumo to the ring for a couple of days. On the other hand, Harumafuji looked terrible during Week 1 but has become dominant here in Week 2 . . . but there’s no saying that he couldn’t go back in the tank over the weekend. And Asanoyama is a Makuuchi Division rookie ranked as low on the banzuke [ranking sheet] as it’s possible to be . . . but if he wins his next two matches, he could be ushered into a playoff where anything could happen. 

Leaving Asanoyama aside, one thing is for certain: Barring injury, Goeido and Harumafuji will fight one another on Sunday, and that match will probably be the determining factor in how this tournament ends. At one point, it seemed plausible that we could have as much as an eleven-person playoff, but now that outcome is back to a mathematical outlier. It seems reasonably possible that two- or three-person playoff could happen, though.

It all depends on how things go today.

M7 Chiyokuni (7–6) vs. M13 Kaisei (8–5)—Kaisei has managed to get his kachi-koshi, meaning that he’ll remain in the Makuuchi Division in November. On the other hand, Chiyonokuni still needs one more win to get his majority, and even though he isn’t likely to drop out of the division if he fails, he certainly WANTS a promotion rather than a demotion. I think that gives him a slight edge in this match, but it should still be a close one. (2:05)
M3 Onosho (8–5) vs. M16 Asanoyama (9–4)—Onosho was a front-runner for the first half of the tournament, but he slipped during the middle section. Asanoyama remains one of two second-place, and he needs to keep on winning in order to stay that way. Onosho, on the other hand, has had 10 wins in both of his previous top division tournaments, and he’d certainly like to do that again . . . but that requires him to win BOTH of his remaining matches. This is a match that will probably be won by the rikishi who flat out wants it more. (6:45)
M1 Tochinoshin (3–10) vs. M10 Ishiura (4–9)—These are two rikishi who are having pretty awful tournaments . . . but they ALSO want to soften their upcoming demotions by finishing strongly. Tochinoshin’s knee is going to be a problem, as is Ishiura’s strained neck, but ONE of them is going to win this match. (8:30)
M9 Takanoiwa (8–5) vs. ozeki Goeido (10–3)—If Goeido wants the best chance possible to pull out his second yusho victory, he needs to win today. If not, then he’ll put Harumafuji in the driver’s seat, and that’s a dangerous place to be. His opponent may be low ranked, but he’s secured a kachi-koshi for this tournament, and he’s beaten Goeido full HALF the times they’ve fought in the past. (Note, however, that they’ve only met twice before.) (14:15)
Sekiwake Mitakeumi (7–6) vs. yokozuna Harumafuji (9–4)—If Harumafuji wins today, then he’ll control his destiny on senshuraku [the final day] no matter WHAT Goeido does. If the ozeki wins, then Harumafuji would be able to force a playoff by beating him tomorrow. If Goeido loses today, then the yokozuna could flat out win the yusho by beating him tomorrow. So despite the fact that Goeido is alone atop the leaderboard, Harumafuji is the one who feels in control of the final results. Of course, if Harumafuji loses and Goeido wins, then the yokozuna will be eliminated from contention. So the first order of business for Harumafuji is to beat Mitakeumi, who is still struggling to get his eighth win. (16:05)